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Does College Name Prestige Matter for Actors?

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Like college graduates in any career field, young performers coming out of college are looking for opportunities that will lead to employment. For actors, singers and dancers, that means theatrical representation, auditions and connections to casting directors. Most college training programs offer a variety of networking opportunities and showcases to help launch their graduates' career.
But is it "who you know" or "where you've been?"

Students and families about to enter the college audition process would love to know if having a highly-recognized school's name on their resume will really make a difference.

So, I asked three show biz industry decision-makers to find out how important it is that young thespians attend a college with a prestigious name. You maybe be surprised by their answers.

Rachel Hoffman, Broadway casting director with Telsey + Company
Jamie Harris, Talent agent with Clear Talent Group, New York City
Annette Tanner, Director of the Broadway Dreams Foundation

How important is where a young performer received their training?

JH: I do look for what training an actor has. I'm a big fan of college/conservatory programs. However, it's not the deciding the factor in whether or not I represent someone.

RH: If a person is right for a role, I don't care where they got their training.

AT: I think it's not necessarily where they got their training but who they trained with.

Does the name of the college really make much of a difference in terms of casting?

RH: In terms of who gets cast, I think the person that the creative team feels is best for the role/job is who gets cast. In terms of getting audition appointments, it can make a little more of a difference

AT: They already expect a person with a top school on their resume to be 'in the league'.

Do those with no college degree have an equal shot at landing work?

JH: For dancers, yes. For actors, I think that gaining entrance to that audition room is more difficult without great training. Also, the majority of the top schools come to New York to showcase, so an actor who does well during showcase season definitely has a leg up in terms of having been introduced to casting.

RH: If they're right for the role, then yes. But I think that having the years in college to really focus on your training is incredibly valuable. College shapes the kind of person/actor that one becomes.

AT: Someone with no college degree has an equal shot if they are a 'wow' performer. Someone who is good but doesn't have the training may not have the audition skills to stand out.

If it came down to a prestigious name college grad and a grad from a lesser-known program, does that influence casting decisions, or who is brought in for a role?

RH: Maybe, in very specific situations. What matters more is if the person is/seems right for the role. If they went to a program I'm aware of and whose graduates usually deliver in auditions, then that never hurts. But I ultimately need to find the best person for the role. No matter what school they did or didn't attend.

AT: I think it can, when casting folks are bringing people in front of a creative team however I think they always want to show the best possible person regardless of where they came from.

Can the program name influence agents in terms of who they interview/sign?

JH: The name alone does not. Of course, given the huge amount showcases, I'm more likely to attend a showcase of a program that is well known, or a smaller school where I've had good luck in the past. An actor is much more likely to have representation once he or she has gone through a four year program and the showcase process.

AT: I think agents are influenced by the pedigree of a college and attend the more known schools' showcases. However, networking via an organization like Broadway Dreams provides that as well.

How many senior showcases do you actually attend each year?

JH: Hah! That's the big question in my office. We tend to divide and conquer as there are simply too many to be seen by one agent. I would say that my office attends in the neighborhood of 20-30, probably more but it also depends on the workload of any given day. We have to pick and choose.

RH: Personally, I attend about 15. Telsey + Company makes an effort to attend every college showcase for which we receive an invitation. There are 20 staff members in the office. We make an effort to cover everything.

Harris provided one last valuable anecdote that while showcase season is hugely important; grads need to remember that it's just a jumping off point for their career, not the defining moment. "Laura Linney didn't get representation after her showcase, and I hear her career is going just fine!"

In my college coaching business, I advise families early on to decide their "must-haves," the things their student is going to insist on, when choosing a college. My goal is that students' specific needs be met. This is far more important than the name of the school.

Harris sums it up this way;

Look for the program that's right for you, above all else. It's really about your training and preparation. Once you arrive on the professional scene, the cream tends to rise, regardless of what school you attended.